Thursday 26 February 2009

In community in diaspora

Of family and presence

I was out in London last weekend on an important familial mission to celebrate a landmark birthday – the party was fun and we quite pleasantly enjoyed ourselves but it presented an unusual snapshot of Diaspora that I had not observed before.

A school hall had been booked for the event and it was commendable to see that the organiser had engaged the services of a functions arranger rather than take on the extraneous duties of doing this as we had done some 10 years before.

According to the invitation, the function was to start at 4:00PM and last till 11:00PM, obviously, I did not want to be first at the party and I also wanted to be inconspicuous if I could help it – by the time I was ready to leave for the party I thought I was running quite late.

I could never be late

Coming out of my hotel I flagged down a black cab for a 15 mile ride out to Essex without batting an eye lid, with my companion, the time was usefully occupied with watching the Cabvision in-cab television system as I tried to ignore the meter reading – in the end, it was less than what I had estimated it would be.

It was just before 5:00PM and we found that apart from the few guests, the party had not started at all, we should have known, even after all these years of Westernisation, African time still looms as a context of indeterminate meeting times rather than the fastidiousness of punctuality.

Dressed out of scope

People just make it in their own time, which meant things did not get into full swing till much later. In discussions before, I had asked about dress codes required for the party, I was of the opinion that traditional dress in London in February would have been paying homage to the god of ice – so I plumbed for the suit, new shirt, new tie and new shoes – I had been doing some shopping for the latter earlier in the day.

I quipped then about members of the Celestial Church of Christ who went unshod when in their soutanas - religious robes worn by all members - and wondered what they did in winter.

Well, I was wrong, the weather was quite mild and many arrived in their full flowing gowns, the ladies in their tops called buba and wrappers called iro, these being overlaid in toga-like fashion with a netting sort of material that is also used for the head tie known as gele.

In place of the iro, some wore a long shirt-like mermaid-tail bottom, all quite fashionable, I must say I am behind the times on the in-things. Very few were in Western attire though the men who wore suits or jackets all seemed to forget to undo the last button – sloppy dressing in my view but they all seemed to be in good company.

Time waits for all men

The event eventually started 210 minutes late and no apologies were given for that lateness as each reference to the starting time was jokingly considered 4 ‘o clock when in fact there were people who had arrived well before the time on the invitation – suffice it to say that for Nigerians, time is still not of the essence.

The agenda was full, prayers, exhortations and songs – in fact, I was amazed that the English praise and worship songs were no different from the ones I did sing some 20 years ago, there might have been a variation in the music but the lyrics remained ancient rather than modern.

The Yoruba songs sounded new and were quite predicable, it made one wonder if musical inspiration was lacking for congregational gospel singing.

Diaspora in divergence

More poignantly was the fact that a good 80% of the attendants might have spent 20 years in the United Kingdom and being successful and well-to-do did not necessarily reflect an element of the integration that should have had some indigenous looking guest amongst us.

It is probably not just peculiar to this gathering but likeness seems to engender communities and the safety of sameness means people seek out similarity rather than difference – this might well be a damning indictment of multiculturalism, but I was at pains to even find a non-South Western Nigerian amongst us.

A little mixed-race girl did reveal the odd miscegenation but her father was not amongst us, we might well have been back in Nigeria having this party and it would have made no difference.

The sames of change

The children all in the late teens or early twenties all spoke English, might well understand the lingua franca of their parents but their pronunciations drew great laughter; the question then becomes what really constitutes their roots and identity.

Apart from the songs, the odd proverb and the greetings – kneeling for the women and mock prostration for the men, we were Diaspora almost plucked out from our roots and left adrift.

We might all have changed but many things remain the same – aspiration is a good thing, academic excellence is still priced – the celebrant holds a PhD, responsibility is a badge of honour, the family is the centre of existence, integrity really matters, and people recognise that in others without dissimulation, the accents are still as strong as they have ever been and when it comes to partying we are still in the running.

The music came from a drummer with a talking drum and a keyboardist who had rigged up his system to produce our traditional music and two microphones where one projected his singular voice and the other gave the impression of many singing – I thought that was quite smart.

Order! Order!

God pervades the atmosphere to suffocation everything punctuated with Praise God as a call to order rather than an active exercise in praise, but we are seriously religious people.

When we had a prayer session, I could well have been in a traditional African initiated church only that the commands to prayer were said in English.

An overdue update

By the time the celebrant cut the cake and we all gathered round for photographs it was ready for the dance, enterprising business men around with dollar notes to be exchanged for pounds allowing for us to spray the celebrant and his wife – something I found myself compelled to do by reason of association.

It was an interesting update for me on how Diaspora has both changed and remained the same despite the number of years that have passed – it might be a reflection of me being a less than community person seeking to be more world citizen than a reflection of the peculiarities of close knit communities that are as integrated as they want to be in other aspects of life but retain a modicum of segregation in their social lives.

It was a beautiful evening.

Wednesday 25 February 2009

Nigeria: The embarrassment of maternal mortality

Mother and child can be safe

Despite the opprobrium that it attracts and in some cases justly so, the subtext to the story the woman who with the help of induced conception gave birth to octuplets [1] is that they are all alive as she also is well and alive to take care of her babies.

Just over 10 years ago, a couple also through assisted fertilisation became parents of a set of live octuplets [2], one of whom died within a week of birth. This couple becoming the first of such an event in America were of Nigerian ancestry and received the best of medical attention that the 7 are healthy vibrant normal children today.

Their mother a few years later conceived naturally to give birth to a girl which brings the number back up to 8 blessings of joy – they have only recently been garnering public attention with the birth of the other octuplets.

Care is of the utmost importance

At my birthday just over 2 months ago, I asked my father [3] about when I was born and if anything, what I heard the most was his gratitude to a medical system 43 years ago that gave a 26-week premature baby the opportunity to thrive and become what I am today.

Last weekend, in Sagamu where I went to secondary school [4] and in a hospital where some 30 years ago, my terror of injections was so shamelessly viewed by many, a lady gave birth to a set of sextuplets [5].

Probably no mean feat and amazing in every case, the sextuplets did survive but a few days afterwards tragedy struck with the death of the mother.

This highlights a very serious health emergency in Nigeria where the country counts for 10% of global maternal mortality [6] deaths linked to child birth – Nigeria ranks second only to India which has about 7 times the population of Nigeria.

Lackadaisical attention to health

I have not been convinced of our government's handling that emergency and embarrassment with any sense of responsibility or urgency; giving that after a fraudulent scandal in the health ministry [7] last year, it took the best part of a year to fill the post of minister and minister of state with competent personnel holding the substantive portfolio.

Meanwhile, the lawmakers bungled [8] their first attempt at a health bill which had a committee of probably the most qualified health professionals sitting and debating.

I have written a lot about health and healthcare in Nigeria and it can only be that those who can afford it get shipped out of the country at any feeling of discomfort whilst the masses self-medicate with unproven but mythically effective herbs and natural remedies until they are beyond orthodox, traditional or spiritual help and consequently die of that pathogenic brief illness.

It should not escape the notice of the reader that the hospital that delivered the sextuplets had been upgraded to a university teaching hospital where presumably one would expect to find the best medical hands and brains but the subtext reads that two of the babies were transferred to the intensive care unit of a private hospital in Lagos some 40 kilometres away where their condition has improved.

It is an emergency

Whilst I can only commend the efficacy of the transport and stabilisation systems that allowed the babies to be delicately transferred to another hospital, the damning reality is how a seeming centre of medical excellence could not provide in totality the care for the babies having inadvertently lost the mother through excessive bleeding.

A few years ago it was another teaching hospital where fake anaesthetic drugs were administered to hapless victim patients and a minister of health [9] who could not be bothered by the health emergency this signified.

Can we get better people?

Then we have a minister of women affairs [10], I say this without prejudice and with no condemnation of what is generally acceptable, whose amazing profile [11] includes the main and only hobby of reading the Quran – with what that all entails about the rights of women, the child and its attendant health issues.

The CEDAW protocol [12] languishes in our legislature whilst they promulgate laws about indecent dressing as another unfortunate woman succumbs into another grievous and heinous statistic of utter irresponsibility on the part of our leadership.

This whole matter of the sextuplets must not end with the mercy missions of charity for the upkeep and survival of the children but it should go to the root of the problem which is the extraordinarily unacceptable number of women needlessly dying at childbirth – this is the critical health emergency that Nigeria faces today and it needs addressing urgently.


[1] American woman gives birth to live octuplets - Times Online

[2] Chukwu octuplets - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[3] Four before three, I am 43 today! []

[4] Remo Secondary School (RSS) at 60 []

[5] BBC NEWS | Africa | Nigerian sextuplets' mother dies

[6] HEALTH-NIGERIA: Little Progress on Maternal Mortality

[7] Nigeria: The resignation of Adenike Grange []

[8] Nigeria: The Senate Health Bill is rejected []

[9] Unhealthy directors of Nigerian Health []

[10] Ministry of Women Affairs

[11] Profile of Minister Saudatu Usman Bungudu [PDF]

[12] Nigeria: Women badly represented at CEDAW convention []

Tuesday 24 February 2009

Thought Picnic: Drawing the line

The lines of virginity sold

I got involved in discussion on AfricanLoft the other day as one of the prolific writers lamented the moral issue of a lady who had decided to sell her virginity [1] like “a cup of lemonade” to pay her way through college.

In spite of the social, moral, ethical and societal issues it raised, I adopted a fiercely pragmatic view of the matter.

By the time I had put in four comments there was a last response by the writer where she asked a most pertinent question – Where do we draw the line?

That question forms the basis of this blog.

The culturally myopic line is being drawn

I believe I had drawn my lines within the comments I made in that blog. The first line I drew was expressing the view that we were in danger of being culturally myopic.

What we might not agree with borne of our breeding, upbringing, experience and religious affiliation is fine for us as individuals but it is not the total knowledge of all circumstance of issues in the world – another line I drew was that I would not subscribe to that kind of enterprise.

However, in drawing my own line, I had to be careful that I was not drawing the lines of someone else – which is where I constructively acquiesced that she had made a commodity of her viginity which for all intents and purposes seemed to have a desirable commercial value.

At the time the blog was written the auction value had risen to $3.7 million [2] – no mean feat at all.

Examining the line of virginity

Other lines were then drawn that no well brought up African woman would auction off her asset in that way, and I drew another line – we also auction our assets which in many cases is our brain power as professional to the highest bidder – the writer did not however acquiesce to that analogy – fair enough.

Where many had drawn the line of this being abominable, the lady had drawn her own lines of exploiting an opportunity which was breathtaking in its execution and worthy of a modicum of appreciation.

Another line suggested she should have her head examined; my line was that it was the veracity of her virginity that needed examining by the lucky bidder who had access to the spoils.

The retorts as other line drawings returned, one commending an alternative view, one appreciating the fact that many women do not get the sophistication of losing their virginity on such a grand scale whilst lamenting the plight of girls, who really do have to hawk off their sexual prowess to make ends meet – the lines were blurring in the stark light of other realities.

A psychological line

Then the lines took a psychological bent when the writer suggested issues about the repercussions of actions we take that could have adverse effects on the parties involved. Then the Puritanical line about issues of integrity and the conservative line of the lady not being the first to go to college in hardship – good lines as they were, I was not persuaded.

Extreme, suggested someone else, but the line of extreme is one we draw for ourselves, we cannot draw that for someone else who thinks it is routine. I would have thought we were all familiar with the saying – One man’s meat is another man’s poison - the lines we draw might not be boundaries for others.

The Bible had been flung in so many violent ways, the pages were falling out with the rage of a pulpit banging preacher on the verge of apoplectic collapse – Sin, Fornication, Prostitution, Judgement, Sex, Rituals and Condemn had entered the picture with the aggressive strokes of a line drawing genius.

Dignity! It matters, but it usually gets mentioned in discussions like this in good-intentioned analysis of others than the close scrutiny of ourselves.

It is an ethical dilemma – a line drawn by one person but presented as one drawn for society which reminds one of a conversation I had with a friend where he opined that some people just have that in-borne tendency to get involved and interfere with every issue – lines just have to be drawn round every issue without restraint. Busy-body is the term we were looking for.

The big money line

Back again on my pragmatic bicycle since I could not afford a high horse, some of the lines I had drawn seemed to have been too faint for some to see – but it was glaring that no one would be paying $3.7 million for “a cup of lemonade” except if it was really special. Some men price virginity for all sorts of good or lewd reasons.

The lines the lady had drawn meant she was on a different trajectory to the ones where we were moralising about her motivation and intentions, for instance, I pooh-poohed the idea of her not being offered a job with the idea that having $3,7 million in her pocket would exclude her from puny judgemental characterisation.

Basically, her lines and our lines were far from congruent and there was a possibility that they were parallel and hence might never cross nor meet.

She has also drawn lines many women might never be able to draw, the one of controlling the means and access to her virginity which I thought was a powerful thing.

Then, despite the lines we had already drawn, her trajectory might well lead to a better narrative than what was exciting our moral sensibilities.

The line of truth

Truth, how true, the truth about other realities we close our eyes to as we blindly draw lines round single issue matters that we project on society as a whole. The explosive fact so far was that at 22 she was still a virgin – that is one really thick line that would be difficult to cross out.

The writer was back in the commentary with the presumed concern for the implications of the lady’s actions and then construing the pragmatic views of the matter as supporting the lady – that emotive line needed striking out.

Light lines and strong lines

More concerned lines followed with the light touch desire that she is forced into repentance after her doings – Gosh! The lines were coming together like she should be sentenced to a convent with the most stringent vows.

I had had enough of the way lines were being drawn around ourselves – if any lines were so particularly disgusted with the line that lady was drawing the only way to bring a new line of thinking to the matter was to launch a Save Natalie’s Virginity campaign.

Move the lines of disconnected Christian concern to the effective work of useful Christian charity by offering the lady a better deal than she already has and in the process preserving her dignity, honour and respect – at least one would assume that is what all these lines are about.

I doubt it though; we are better armchair commentators with the whole knowledge of the law, the right and the Scripture than participants in evoking the change necessary to align a situation to our preconceived, if not bigoted and prejudicial line of thinking.

The line of the world system

Even I found pages of pragmatic example to recite to the learned spiritually superior whose lines were too perfect to be perfected – the failure to realise what the Master said in the days of yore, that, “the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light” Luke 16:8 [3].

My line was that the lady had learnt to work the world system to her advantage – it is called survival – and we should get over it by sticking to our principled lines of Puritanical preservation whilst being open-minded enough to realise that drawing our own lines should not constitute drawing lines round the activities of other free-moral agents.

The lines turned to scribbles of incoherence afterwards but in the end my lines had been drawn and the writer asked again – where do we draw the line?

We draw the line around ourselves concerning our own business and let others draw their own lines, where they meet we engage, where they don’t we agree to disagree but just as we would not allow others to draw their lines around us, so should we not draw lines round others.

That is where we draw the line.


[1] American Girl Offers Virginity for Sale. Big Deal..? | AfricanLoft

[2] Student auctions off virginity for offers of more than £2.5 million - Telegraph

[3] Bible.CC: Luke 16:8 "And his master praised the unrighteous manager because he had

Note: I acknowledge that the references I made to the comments in the AfricanLoft blog belong within the context of that blog as the original source.

A mathematical reflection on Shrove Tuesday

A time for reflection

Today is Shrove Tuesday [1], the day before Ash Wednesday [2] when those of a traditional Christian religious inclination embark on 40 days of self-deprivation to end on Palm Sunday in what is the Lenten season.

There might be many who would give up something for Lent [3], having not prepared for it, I wonder what I would be giving up for Lent.

Maybe what I should be doing is adopting something for Lent, some reflection, some introspection, some reminiscing, some meditation, some resolve and some giving of thanks in solemnity.

A time of fattening

But today is Mardi Gras [4] (Fat Tuesday), we get to throw together all sorts of leftovers and gorge ourselves silly before straitened and frugal times of spiritual renewal and reawakening.

In traditional households, it is Pancake Day and what toppings can one desire for pancakes than the richest flavours that would have calorie counters choking on their cholesterol.

It would be easier for me to obtain ready-made pancakes, maple syrup and ice cream from my supermarket and make happy with a quick oven warming but that is about to be marred with inanity.

In pursuit of useless science

A lecturer of mathematics first starts making things including pancakes and has ended up making things up with some complex mathematical formula needed to create the perfect pancake [5].

The amazing formula is “100 - [10L - 7F + C(k - C) + T(m - T)]/(S - E) with the closer you get to a 100 - the better the pancake.

Someone must be pulling my Lenten cords as it seems I should first be shopping for a Non Stick Aluminium Frying Pan – thankfully, I already have the choices of English Shropshire Honey [6], English Salisbury Plain Honey [7] or Scottish Heather Honey [8] – all acquired from your favourite grocery – Fortnum & Masons [9] on the Piccadilly last weekend when I snuck into London.

So, frying pan at the right temperature (T) using a thermocouple thermometer, number of lumps in batter (L) with some consistency value (C) and a flipping score (F) – flipping heck, it is a pancake for crying out loud.

Better to use the pancake recipe [10] on than follow this mad scientist tripe, the credit crunch can so easily be attributed to mathematicians [11] making things up with their complex investment vehicles that gave birth to superfluous credit and debt systems without the attendant risk balancing equations that has now brought our economies down to the knees.

Make things, make pancakes

Never before have we needed people and brains that make things so much as mathematicians should begin to think of how to make it up to us for their formulaic concoctions of silly pancakes and debt instruments – this time of Lent must surely bring us the greater repentance to desist from making things up.

If I ever wanted to use this formula it would be just to get the pancake mix to throw over the heads of mathematicians held up to public ridicule in stocks at the market square – the more rotten eggs and curdled milk the better.

One last day to descend into the debauched excess of a goodly pancake before one repents of it all in Lent with one last prayer – Dear Lord, in these straitened times, deliver our pancakes from the machinations of atrocious mathematicians bent on creating inscrutable formulae that equate to rotten pancakes ready to be binned.

Keep off our pancakes – I protest!


[1] Shrove Tuesday - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[2] Ash Wednesday - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[3] Lent - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[4] Mardi Gras - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[5] Formula for perfect pancake unveiled by scientists - Telegraph

[6] English Shropshire Honey

[7] English Salisbury Plain Honey

[8] Scottish Heather Honey

[9] Fortnum & Mason UK - Experts in food hampers and gift hampers

[10] Pancakes I - Allrecipes

[11] BBC NEWS | Business | The maths of the credit crunch